EMBA's Evolution

As More Students Pay, EMBA Programs Adapt


Once upon a time, executive MBA students attended business school to enhance their skills and better perform for the companies that were paying their way. Today, fewer companies are sponsoring employees, which means more EMBA students are footing the bill themselves. As a result, according to top business schools, more are looking to make a career change, either during the program or after graduation. Business schools are hustling to make sense of this new demand and offer appropriate career help to these seasoned hires.

Calls for EMBA career programs began to pick up in volume about a decade ago, says UCLA Anderson School of Management EMBA career coach Susan Dearing. After the financial crisis took hold in 2008, the need for EMBA career help accelerated further. In recent years, Dearing has surveyed EMBA students about their needs, both as they enter the program and once they have graduated. Roughly 30 percent to 40 percent of each incoming EMBA class at Anderson is looking to make a career shift, she adds.

Every intake of students at IE Business School in Madrid marks an increase in the number interested in making a career leap, says Amber Wigmore Álvarez, director of career advising at IE’s Career Management Center. In fact, 56 percent of IE’s EMBA Class of 2010 changed industry or function within a year of graduating.

“Business school is a natural incubator,” says Mark Horney, director of Executive MBA Career Management at Columbia Business School in New York. “There is a broad trend of more EMBA students thinking about making some sort of transition, either in their current company or making a complete change elsewhere.”

Many business schools began by bringing in career coaches specifically to help EMBA students, whose needs differ from those of full-timers. They have more work experience—typically seven to 10 years, vs. about four for full-time MBAs—and they work full-time while attending EMBA programs. But business schools are still adjusting to their specialized career needs. Many recent graduates surveyed when Bloomberg Businessweek compiled its 2011 EMBA rankings complained about their schools’ inability to help them find jobs. “I did not get any real support from their career management recruitment office,” wrote a graduate of the EMBA program at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business in a comment that was fairly typical, even among top programs. “Considering that this was a flagship program, I would have expected a lot more.”

Not Quite Career Placement

For now, most business schools continue to provide EMBAs with career counseling services that stop short of actual recruiting, and many recent graduates are satisfied. For example, Lauren Samuel, a 2011 graduate of the Cornell University Johnson Graduate School of Management, welcomes the workshops, career counseling, résumé review, and further help available to her after she graduates. Samuel was working for Lehman Brothers when Barclays (BARC:LN) acquired its U.S. operations in 2008. Barclays picked her up and she has since changed roles.

At University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, EMBA students can take advantage of career workshops and one-on-one counseling. The goal is to teach students the skills necessary to develop their careers now and into the future, says Joyce Mueller, director of the EMBA program at Ross. “We’re doing a lot to teach students how to interact with executive recruiters,” she says. Although the Ross school will continue to serve as a conduit for networking by EMBA students and potential employers while improving its career services, she adds that career placement is not a primary element of the strategy.

Still, alumni hope the programs evolve to offer more of a hand. “There was lots of education but not much matching students with open positions,” said Tom Thomas, a 2011 Ross graduate. “That’s what people will be looking for, moving forward.” He adds that how to make a career change was the No. 1 priority for many of his classmates, too.

Thomas was working for Sprint Nextel (S) from a virtual office far from company headquarters just outside Kansas City, Kan. He could not just move up the ladder, which motivated him to attend an EMBA program. At Ross, he took it upon himself to make connections in hopes of making a change. Thanks to a classmate who recruited him, Thomas now runs marketing intelligence for Organic, a digital ad agency headquartered in San Francisco. He says he was pleased with the career help Ross offered, but says business schools in general should do more.

“Most EMBA programs were caught with their pants down to structure and formalize career programs because [until recently] companies were still sponsoring the majority of students,” Thomas says. “Before, EMBA programs were meant to retain people, not have them jump ship.”

How Much Help Do Professionals Need?

Times have indeed changed. Some schools have banded together in the MBA Career Services for Working Professionals Alliance, which provides best practices and guidelines for career services for executive and part-time MBA students and alumni. Still, schools resist creating career programs similar to those offered full-time MBA students.

Anderson’s Dearing says she realizes that some students would prefer on-campus recruiting opportunities that directly match students with potential employers. The school sees its role differently, she adds. EMBAs are already employed, are further along in their careers, and there is no burning need to find them a job, she says. Nor are companies accustomed to hiring experienced executives through on-campus recruiting with help from business schools. While Dearing provides leads and contacts to students, it’s not a prime concern, she says.

“My role is not to find them a job,” she says. “My role is to provide them with the resources to find a job.”

Few EMBA career services directors foresee corporate sponsorship making a decisive comeback. EMBAs are likely to keep seeking radical career changes, says Mary Gross, director of career management services at the MBA Program for Executives at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. She says business schools have no choice but to adapt to these changing needs, though obstacles remain.

“The timeline is longer for EMBAs because they usually take one year to 18 months after graduation to make a change,” says Gross. “The challenge business schools have to face is the desire students have to make a change sooner.”

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Francesca_dimeglio
Di Meglio is a reporter for Businessweek.com in Fort Lee, N.J.

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